Book Review: The Devourers by Indra Das

the-devourers

What it’s about: A professor meets a strange man who claims to be half werewolf, and learns the terrible story of his family.

Praise: Full disclosure – I’m a sucker for werewolves. They are by far my favorite of the classic monsters. Unfortunately, I don’t think the average movie or book uses them well. Werewolves don’t just scare. They explore nature, civilization, shifting identities and humanity itself. Unfortunately, ninety percent of werewolf stories feel more like the author wrote a vampire story, decided it wasn’t original enough, then hastily changed it. Still, when an author tries to do something properly werewolfy, the result is some of the best stories horror has to offer.

This book firmly belongs in that latter category. It makes you equal parts terrified, fascinated and in love with its subject. It is philosophical, but not the measured philosophy of lecture halls. It’s the trembling, awestruck philosophy of the mad hermit in the woods. It is gory, but not the sickening splatter of modern slasher. It’s the strangely elegant gore of Gothic horror.

On a less pretentious note, I loved the plot and the characters. The viewpoint characters all had beautifully distinct voices. It drives me mad when a story shifts between multiple first person POVs and I lose track of who is talking. I never had that problem with this book.

Also, on one more personal note, there are multiple non-stereotypical queer characters. I can’t say any more without spoilers, but I was happy and I think other LGBTQ readers will be too.

Criticism: For the first few chapters, when I wasn’t sure where this was going, it was a little slow. It was well worth pushing through, though. Once things came together, I didn’t want to put it down.

Also, content warning, this books contains violence, anthropophagy (I feel wrong calling it cannibalism given how the shapeshifters insist they aren’t human) and a rape scene. Even the latter, though, avoids the common pitfalls. In a book full of sexual imagery, it’s one of the few scenes devoid of eroticism. There’s no “well, it wasn’t really proper rape because….” Instead, the book insists that, despite how the attacker frames it, it was rape, because he did not give the victim the opportunity to consent. The victim is actually characterized as an interesting and sympathetic human being, not just a tool of the story. The scene is necessary to the plot, not just there to add drama or titillation. All other writers, take note.

Recommended? If intense, brutal and beautiful is up your alley, then yes, very much recommended.

Reviewing Adventures in Odyssey as an Agnostic-Atheist: The Boy Who Didn’t Go to Church

This episode opens with recurring child-in-need-of-a-lesson Jack stopping by Whit’s End just in time to catch a rehearsal of a church skit. Ah, church skits. I remember you well. In retrospect, they were fun to put on, but the plots tended to teeter just on the edge of “so bad it’s good” without quite making it there. This episode captures the obliviously cloying blandness perfectly.

Jack wants to watch, because he loves theater, and while they set everything up he chats with Whit. Whit mentions that he hasn’t seen Jack around at church much lately. Jack knows he’s in trouble, and stammers something about being busy. Lucky for him, Whit drops it. Yeah, that won’t last long. You know if Whit doesn’t immediately rant, he’s already forming a manipulative ploy to make Jack do what he wan- I mean, a brilliant plan to set the young whippersnapper back on the right path.

Connie comes along and announces that they can’t do the rehearsal after all, because their lead actor is out sick. Everyone is disappointed, but Whit suggests handing Jack a script and letting him read the part. Jack is thrilled, and everyone else takes their places.

The play is about a charitable group called the Brotherhood of Dutiful Youth, or The Body. Er, BODY. BoDY? I dunno, it’s a radio show. Their leader is Mr. Headley, whose job is to tell everyone to do the exact things they do every week. First he sends out I. C. Freely to locate people who might need help. Then Miss Lipman and R. U. Listening go talk to them about their problems and figure out what they need. Hans Armstrong does most of the actual work, and John LeFeet, Jack’s character, is essentially everyone else’s chauffeur.

He doesn’t find this work particularly satisfying, so one day he decides to quit and start his own group, called the LeFeets. It doesn’t go so well. They can’t even manage step one; find people who actually need help.

Yeah, that’s about 3/4 of the episode right there. There’s a lot of filler, mostly body based puns. And let me be clear, I have nothing but respect for that. It’s just not great for review purposes.

Anyway, after being unable to help anyone for, um, ages, they finally get a gig… delivering a care package. Carrying stuff. Which is kind of exactly what they had been doing all along. Initially they are mad that this is all anyone seems to want from them, but after the job has been completed, John LeFeet realizes he feels great. In fact, he hasn’t been this happy since he left The Body, so he disbands the LeFeets and returns.

Unfortunately, he returns to find an empty room, where I. C. Freely is just packing up the last of her things. She explains that without John LeFeet, they had no one to take them anywhere, and couldn’t do anything.

Bit of an ableist conclusion, if you ask me.

No, but for real, there was no way they could just find somebody else with a car, or, like, drive themselves. They had to have John LeFeet or they were all sitting around in this room twiddling their thumbs. Or, at least they weren’t able to get up and help people, but they were able to get up and go find other jobs? This level of logic is pretty typical for a church skit, to be honest. It also creates a mood whiplash, as all the puns and silliness end and John realizes he has ruined everything, and falls to his knees with an epic “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Even this is pretty normal. About a third of skits are all puns until the end, until you realize that because somebody failed to evangelize their neighbor/disobeyed a law that made no sense and could easily have been explained but wasn’t because this is a metaphor for original sin/went to a party, everything is terrible forever. But again, Jack hasn’t been to church much lately, so he’s apparently forgotten how preachy skits work. He asks Whit about the sudden tone change, and Whit explains that people have been leaving church lately, and this skit is there to show them why that’s so terrible. In his words;

“A lot of people are like John LeFeet. They don’t like where God has put them. Instead of being a foot, they’d rather be a hand or a head. After a while they start feeling like they really aren’t getting anything out of the church, so they stop coming.”

This is bullshit on so many levels.

First, that’s not why most people stop going to church. They stop believing, or come to feel their religion is not the most important part of their life. Nothing about that story addressed faith or belief. But perhaps that’s deliberate, because the second issue is that it’s going to be performed at church, in front of people who are still going. It’s not meant to address the concerns of non-church goers, regardless of what Whit says. It’s meant to stop other people from leaving.

Which brings me to the second point. Whit says God has placed everyone in the church exactly where he wants them. I’ll put aside my own beliefs (or lack thereof) and argue on his terms for a moment. People change, evolve, learn and grow. Just because God places someone in one place at one time, why would that mean he wants them to stay there forever? Consider Jack, for example. Let’s say he was feeling dissatisfied. He’s also just proven that he’s a good actor. He loves the theater, and since they didn’t have enough people for an understudy, clearly they need more people like him. So why didn’t Whit bring him back by inviting him to help with the play to begin with? Why guilt trip him, instead of utilizing his talents?

And that guilt trip is my third, and final point. This isn’t about making people feel joyful and satisfied in their work. It’s not about understanding them as evolving human beings and working with them. It’s about making them feel like if they ever change things then everything will be ruined and it’s all their fault. It’s sugar coated coercion.

Which, come to think of it, is another reason why people leave the church. Kind of hard to develop an authentic faith with all that pressure.

Final ratings

Best bit: the puns, which to be honest aren’t that great, but I still have nothing but respect for them.

Worst bit: Seriously, none of these people have cars?

Story: I actually liked the setup. Just not where they went with it. C-

Moral: Poorly thought out. D-

 

No Clean Slate For Donald Trump

I’m not a fucking goldfish.

So, the election is over, and the person who technically won it somehow lost it. The majority of the country is pissed; that’s not the conversation we are having, as a nation. The conversation is whether we should calm down, take a deep breath, and give him a chance to show us what kind of person he’ll be, or actually let his past behavior inform our current opinion of him.

Here’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way. The most dangerous people aren’t the ones who are consistently horrible. The ones with no self-control, no common sense and no shred of human decency set off warning signs around themselves. They can screw things up fairly badly, but most people figure out to get away from them before things get too bad. The worst ones are the people who can make a show of contrition, without really meaning it. They are the people who know how much forgiveness you have in you, who will push you right to the edge of your limits and stop exactly when you run out of second chances. They’ll bide their time, until your anger has simmered down and you are confident that they have changed, and then they’ll go back to their old ways. They’ll do this again and again. Worst of all, any time you hurt them, they will take the fact that you value forgiveness and turn it against you. The expectation will be that you apologize every time you do something they don’t like, while they only apologize to you as often as you can force them to. This will create a distorted feeling of reality; you feel constantly hurt by them, but somehow you’re apologizing more, so you must be doing something wrong, right? You may never get out, because you are mired down by your constant fear that asserting yourself will make you a bad person.

There is only one way out of this trap. It is to recognize the signs of someone who has a truly repentent character, as opposed to somebody who is currently in a situation where contriteness is convenient. Here are some of the signs I have learned:

  • They aren’t afraid of having their flaws pointed out to them.
  • You never need to threaten or bribe them in order to get them to act like a decent person.
  • The first time you bring up the fact that you were hurt, they listen.
  • Sometimes, they even bring it up before you’ve figured out what to say to them.
  • They regularly invest effort in improving themselves, across the board. They want to be a better person simply because that is a valuable goal to them, for its own sake.
  • They never have to be convinced of the basic fact that other people have feelings that matter. They already believe this; it’s just a matter of better understanding how other people’s feelings work.

If a person hurts you, and doesn’t have the basic human capacity to care that you are hurting, they will not change. At most, they will temporarily adjust to dodge consequences.

I have had eighteen months to watch Donald Trump in action. He has, in fact, been shoved in my face by a ratings obsessed media. In order to have him act like a kind and reasonable adult for two minutes together, there needs to be enormous pressure, from media, from his campaign managers and pundits, and from the nation as a whole. But he will gleefully smear any marginalized group for a round of applause from his alt-right voters. I genuinely don’t care which groups he is or isn’t actually prejudiced against. Whether he is willing to harm marginalized groups because he personally hates they or just because he’s pandering to a hateful base, the same people end up hurt.

Between his staff and cabinet picks, the Russian calls and the fact that he’s already gotten into another twitter fight, with the cast of Hamilton of all people, it already looks like those who have erased their slate will just end up having to write the same shit on it all over again.

hamilton-cast
Apparently “Thanks for coming, please treat us like humans” constituted harassment.

My slate still has everything written on it. All the slurs, all the bigotry, all the violence at his rallies that he actively encouraged. All the scandals, the cheats, the corruption. All the sexual assault and intimidation, all the bullying of reporters. All the unconstitutional and dictatorial suggestions he made with flippant disregard to the actual implications. He ran on a campaign of racial hatred and totalitarian soundbites. I will take him at his word.

November 9th, 2016

I don’t know what happened.

I’m writing this at ten minutes to 1 AM. Unless a miracle happens between now and dawn, Hillary Clinton will lose the election.

I don’t know what happened, but I can guess.

People were complacent that someone else would do the right thing. They knew one thing would feel morally superior and one thing was what most people needed to do to protect us as a whole. Instead of casting their vote in the best interest of the nation as a whole, they did what they could pretend was morally superior. Or else they just stayed home.

People swallowed a myth about the lesser of two evils. True in it’s substance, woefully inaccurate in it’s scale.

People let themselves be swept up by a story instead of fighting for the issues that will really matter to us over the next four years.

People turned out to be depressingly more bigoted and hateful than I wanted them to be.

I am scared, and sad, and feel like I haven’t even fully processed the weight of how bad this is. It will probably take a while before I do. Eventually, though, I will have processed this.

I will see injustices; I have no illusions. Real people will be hurt. In some situations, I will be one of them. In others, they will be people different from me; women, POC, and Muslims in particular. Things will not be fine.

In the meantime, I will love my partner, my sister, and my best friend. I will keep talking about injustices and protesting them. When I can do something to help, I will.

And eventually, I will regain my hope in the American people.

It’s just not going to happen today.

November 8th, 2016

This is it, people. We can do this.

We can elect a president who will support for women’s rights, defend queer families and reform the education system to meet the needs of students from preschool to college.

We can shame the swelling movement of racist nonsense that is gaining dangerous ground here. We are a nation that has helped and abused those of other races, nationalities and beliefs, one that has welcomed immigrant with one hand and beaten them down with the other. Today, we can choose to be our better selves.

We can secure a Supreme Court that will push for freedom and equality for generations to come. We can strike down Citizens United and uphold individual liberties.

We can choose the candidate who understands climate change and will ensure America does it’s share to preserve the planet as a place where humanity can continue to exist.

We can choose a commander in chief with the guts to stand up to foreign dictators, the sense to avoid pointless wars, and the experience to make diplomacy work for us.

This isn’t a normal election. We are at a crossroads that will determine our path, not only as a nation but as a global society. This election will have repercussions for generations to come.

We can do it. We can make the right choice.

We’ve got this.

Review: The Girl From the Well, by Rin Chupeco

So, remember that Halloween scary novel thing I was doing? Where all the authors were women from this awesome list? Yeah, this is one I didn’t quite get to post back in October. I always said this was a possibly November too project, so there you go. Ass covered. 

the-girl-from-the-well

What it’s about: A vengeful ghost meets a boy afflicted with a strange curse, and the consequences might doom or redeem them both.

Praise: This is the best book.

Full points for atmosphere, on every page. The descriptions of the ghost vengeance scenes were grotesquely vivid, in the best style of J-horror. But one of my principles of horror is that pure creepiness cannot be sustained for long. Rin Chupeco varies the tones of each scene; horrifying, creepy, tense, and a breath of heartwarming that gradually builds to ominous.

As I read, I had no idea where the plot was going, and I loved that. It’s been a long time since a horror story took me lead me somewhere blind; the formulaic aspects of horror don’t bother me, so long as they are well used, but it is fun to have a genuine surprise every now and then.

I loved every character, and the developing relationships between them. And most of all, I loved Okiku’s perspective. I love a truly inhuman point of view. Okiku hasn’t been a human for several centuries. She can tap into human’s minds the way most people peek into boxes, but she doesn’t think of people by their names. Mostly she walks on ceilings. She incessantly counts things. It made her eerie and alien, but she was still somehow relatable.

Criticism: None. Did you not hear me when I said this was the best book?

Recommended? Stop everything and read it.

Review: Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake

Note: This October (and probably November) I’m reviewing scary novels from Book Riot’s list of Horror YA from Women Authors. For more Halloween reading suggestions, click the link!

anna-dressed-in-blood

What it’s about: Teenage ghost hunters, magical bloodlines that give the protagonists both special powers and terrible burdens, and a love interest who also happens to be a deadly monster. You know, the usual stuff you find on the YA shelves.

Praise: This story opens with an inner monologue from a teenage ghost hunter on the prowl, and could easily have come across as a formulaic Supernatural copy. Instead, Cas quickly came to feel like a real person to me. The same thing happened with all the characters. It wasn’t really unique in any way that I can quantify, at least not without spoilers, but it felt like it’s own thing.

The pacing was also stellar. I worried at the beginning of this that there wasn’t enough story to flesh out a whole novel, and that I had pages of filler ahead of me. But man, the story wasn’t going the direction I expected at all. It was exciting.

The supporting cast was fantastic, especially Anna herself. It’s hard to make the same person genuinely terrifying and deeply sympathetic. With Anna, Kendare Blake completely succeeded. She also makes her cast click together perfectly naturally. I’ve read so many books where the author says, “this character and that character will become best friends, take my word for it,” but it never really feels organic. I just know the characters wouldn’t have become friends if the author hadn’t decided to make it so.

Plus, there’s a mother/son relationship that actually feels like, well, a mother/son relationship. Why is that so hard? Why are most parents of protagonists either absent, evil, stereotypes or dead? All you need for realism is love and intimate understanding that doesn’t preclude mistakes and miscommunication, plus a tension between their mutual desire for the son’s independence and mutual desire for anything but.

Okay, I can see why not everybody goes for that. Anyway, in this book there is all of that and it works so well.

Criticism: Narratively, I can’t think of a single thing to complain about. This book was completely engaging. On a social justice note, though, it did bother me that a scary ghost is literally the only POC in the entire book. Any of the protagonists could have been POC with no significant changes, or the ghost could simply have been white as well. Again, still enjoyed the book, and it’s the only problem I can think of, but it would have been so easy to avoid.

Recommended? Oh good lord yes

Reviewing Adventures in Odyssey as an Agnostic-Atheist: Bad Company

Yesterday, I wrote my first positive review of an AIO episode. The story was decent, and the moral was on the importance of being kind and loving to everyone. Unfortunately, when I was listening to it, the happy feels did not last long, because right on the other side of the tape was this shitshow.

Yes, I’m listening to tapes. I didn’t want to give Focus on the Family any of my money, so instead I got my Mom to give me all our old cassettes and invested in one of the planet’s last walkmans.

This is how Chris opens the episode.

“Choosing our friends is one of the most important choices we’ll ever make, because our friends often affect the way we act and how we think.”

As far as she goes, I agree. The people who are close to us affect our behavior, and it’s worthwhile to choose your influences wisely. I also don’t think this necessarily contradicts the message of the previous episode. You can show basic human decency to someone who isn’t your close friend; in fact as a general rule you should. But there are definitely ways to put those two ideas together that aren’t good.

There are two plots in this story. In the first, Donna Barclay is going to hang out with her friend Rachel. As she tells her Mom where she’s going, Mrs. Barclay expresses some concerns. She thinks Rachel is rude and a bad influence. Donna insists that Rachel doesn’t influence her behavior, that all the pair of them do is wander, chat and window shop. Mrs. Barclay wants to trust Donna around her, but it’s clear that’s a struggle. Ultimately, she doesn’t stop Donna from going, despite her misgivings.

Meanwhile, Connie tells Whit about a new Bible study that’s got her excited. He immediately starts probing about where it is, who leads it and what they will be teaching. And, with only the information that A. a friend invited her and B. it’s not affiliated with a specific church he knows of, he starts warning her off of it.

“Just because it’s a Bible study doesn’t mean that they’ll teach the right things about the Bible.”

Connie has to promise to give a full report to get him off her back.

Again, he doesn’t tell her she can’t go… but this feels very different from the case with Mrs. Barclay and Donna. In one case you have a parent/child relationship. Mrs. Barclay sounded like the typical mother adjusting to the fact that her daughter is now a teenager. Expressing some misgivings but trusting Donna’s judgment was a completely reasonable reaction. Whit, on the other hand, has a nebulous friend/employer/mentor relationship with Connie. There is a power imbalance, but not a clear sense of where his influence in her life begins and ends. Sometimes he actively interferes with her life, and other times he lets her make her own decisions. In this episode, he doesn’t stop her from going, but he doesn’t stop her in a way that seems very magnanimous, like he’s showing such generosity by letting her go to this Bible study which he has not personally vetted. Mrs. Barclay’s ambivalence is acknowledging Donna’s independence. Whit’s ambivalence suggests that he feels entitled to dictate Connie’s religious development.

Donna and Rachel meet up at the mall. In the space of about a minute, Rachel complains about Donna’s parents, complains about all parents, says she hates church, says she not only stopped going but made her parents stop… They are working so hard to establish her as a BAD INFLUENCE I’m honestly shocked that she doesn’t invite Donna to a strip club. Although, for all that, the one thing she doesn’t do is mock Donna about going to church. In fact, she specifically says, “no offense, it’s all right if you like that kind of thing. I just don’t.”

Next, we see Connie at the Bible study. Turns out, this isn’t a conventional Bible study. The leader, Mr. Grayson, doesn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, and has a Quaker-like philosophy about the divine speaker in all of us. They aren’t even going to be reading the Bible tonight. They’re drawing from another book by a modern historian. We cut away before we find out the details of what that book says, what it’s qualifications are, whether this book is one of several they study or whether it’s their surrogate Bible, or anything else specific about their religious philosophy. The point is that this man’s version of Christianity isn’t the same as Whit’s. As far as the episode is concerned, he is established as BAD INFLUENCE and we can move on, back to Donna and Rachel, who are being tailed by a mall cop.

Apparently Rachel’s a shoplifter. Yeah, we jumped straight from “doesn’t go to church” to “actual thief.” Donna only finds out when the mall cop catches up to them. Rachel takes off, leaving Donna to deal with the fallout. Donna chooses to pay for the earrings herself to stop them from pressing charges against Rachel. When they meet up later, not only does she not get reimbursed, but Rachel actually mocks Donna for being such a… nice and responsible person?

Next Connie returns to give Whit her report. She’s confused, because she thinks some of what Mr. Grayson said made sense. At the time she had a lot of questions, but when she asked them, Mr. Grayson did this thing where he offered counterarguments? Like, instead of just insisting he was right, he had evidence and sources and shit? She’s not used to logic, so it was very disorienting. Luckily for her, Whit has an answer to all of his arguments.

“Mr. Grayson is wrong. Absolutely without question or doubt wrong.”

Well, that’s that settled. This episode doesn’t even give us Mr. Grayson’s arguments in full. It’s just Whit repeating that he’s right because he’s right because he’s right because he’s right. Then he admonishes Connie for not being careful about what information she puts into her head.

“Keep an open mind? Open to what? To teachings that go against the Bible?… You need time to grow in the Lord, mature in the word. Then maybe you’ll be able to defend yourself against ridiculous ideas… This is why I was so concerned about you going to that Bible study. You have to be careful about who’s teaching you and what they’re trying to teach.”

Remember kids, if you go to hell for having the wrong ideas, it’s your own fault. Better to cocoon yourself in one perspective so you never risk having a wrong thought.

But what if you’re cocooned in the wrong perspective from the-

NO WRONG THOUGHTS!

In all seriousness, Whit claims to be nurturing Connie’s faith, but is it really faith if you just refuse to listen to somebody else’s side? Who died and made Whit the one true prophet of the Lord? He’s pressuring her to conform all of her beliefs to his; what he calls faith, I call control.

But what I call control they call faith, so her story ends with Whit agreeing to lead his own Bible study for Connie and her friends. We are all expected to be happy about that. Anyway……

After the events of the day, Mrs. Barclay comforts Donna. Needless to say, she and Rachel are no longer friends. I’m pretty happy about that. Rachel is a spiteful little brat who doesn’t deserve a friend like Donna. Her refusal to reimburse Donna for the earrings is proof that she’s the kind of person who will take advantage of someone else’s kindness. She’s toxic and Donna should stay far away from her. That’s not what bothers me about this storyline.

What bothers me is the pervasive attitude that, because Rachel is a non-believer and doesn’t go to church, Donna should have expected this. Mrs. Barclay’s concern at the beginning is that Rachel is a bad influence. Rachel has clearly not influenced Donna in the least; the behavior of the two girls could not be more different. Yet, Donna isn’t treated, by her mother or the episode, like a smart, kind girl who should have been trusted all along. She’s treated like a girl who was doing something wrong simply by associating with Rachel, and has now learned the error of her ways.

Final ratings

Best bit: I dunno. The ten seconds Mr. Grayson got to talk? Not because I agreed with him either, but at least he sounded like someone you could have an interesting, nonjudgmental conversation with.

Worst bit: Literally everything else.

Story: There’s barely a story to review here, outside of the moral. Just a mess of straw men and designated moral authorities. F

Moral: “Don’t hang out with people I disagree with, they’re all evil.” That’s not even an F. That’s like a Z-

Reviewing Adventures in Odyssey as an Agnostic-Atheist: The Greatest of These

This episode opens with a classroom spelling bee, and a kid named Oscar has the final word. He alone will determine whether his team ties with their opponents, or loses. The teacher has said that the losing team will do the winning teams homework, but if they tie, there’s no homework for anyone. And the teacher seems to have a soft spot, because he gives Oscar the shortest word yet, “laugh.”

Oscar steps up and carefully sounds it out.

“L. A. P. H?”

Thankfully the poor kid makes it out of the school alive.

In the very next scene, his team captain from the bee, Robyn Jacobs, finds out she is also partnered with him for the upcoming science fair. This would upset anyone, and Robyn is a smart perfectionist who lacks patience with those less gifted than her. And here I’ve got to give AIO credit. They are not the best at the whole “show don’t tell” thing, but this opening was great. It established the characters and their conflict perfectly. I know where this story is going, but I don’t feel like I’ve been talked down to.

And then in the next scene Connie shows up to ask Whit what agape means. So much for subtlety. Now, if you didn’t grow up with Bible camp, you’re probably pronouncing that uh-gayp and wondering how bad Connie’s high school must be if she doesn’t know it means “hanging open.” That’s what’s confusing her. She found it in the Bible Study she leads. It’s in a passage about love, and they’re trying to figure out how “hanging open” applies to love in any kind of Biblical sense.

Er. That came out wrong.

Anyway, Whit explains that it’s a Greek word, pronounced more like uh-gah-pay, and if he tells her now it will spoil the end of the episode deprive her of valuable experience. Valuable looking-up-Greek-words experience.

Connie leaves and Robyn shows up, steeling herself for her meeting with Oscar to discuss their science project. Her preferred method of venting is a long rant over ice cream, which, you know, valid. Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize that the whole point of venting is to get your bad feelings OUT, so you can act like a decent human being when the time comes. When Oscar shows up, she’s a fucking brat to him.

Which is a shame, because Oscar actually has a pretty good idea for a model volcano. With a little encouragement from Whit, he gets the idea out there, and Robyn starts actually treating him like a partner.

While the kids work on their project, Connie continues her research, and Whit engages in a little research of his own. Connie discovers that agape means unconditional love. Whit figures out that Oscar has dyslexia.

Before they can do anything with this information, Robyn and Oscar are ready to test their volcano. They call Whit and Connie in to observe, and initially it works, but then, when it’s time to shut it off, the thing doesn’t stop. It keeps going and going and overloads. Fake lava is splattered all around the room and their project is a smoking mess.

Robyn, distraught, tries to figure out what went wrong. The answer is discovered almost as soon as she looks at the on/off switch. Oscar never shut it off.

She calls him dumb and useless and storms out. Oscar agrees with her, and follows her out in tears.

A few days later, Robyn is talking to Whit about trying to change partners. Whit tries to get her to give him another chance, and when she won’t listen, he explains that Oscar’s dyslexia is to blame for the error, because it makes him read things backwards.

Wait, what? Like, that’s not only not how dyslexia works at all, but how would that apply to the switches even if it were true? The switches would just say, “no” and “ffo.” Still pretty easy to see which one is off, on account of it’s got an F in it. And again, NOT HOW DYSLEXIA WORKS. 

Anyway…

Robyn now feels bad for how she’s been treating him, but Whit isn’t done. He talks to her about agape; unconditional love. The kind of love Christians are supposed to have for everyone. Robyn tries to point out all the times she has helped Oscar, but Whit doesn’t let that slide either. If her treatment of him elsewhere in this episode is anything to go by, she might have done him favors, but that’s not the same thing as love. She treats him in a way that makes him feel pathetic for needing her help in the first place. Oscar didn’t deserve that. He deserved loving treatment from Robyn, right from the start. Not when it was easy, or convenient, or when he was doing what she wanted him to do. He deserved to be loved all along.

Oscar shows up, and Robyn apologizes to him. She says she wants to keep working with him, and finish their project together. Oscar, being a nice guy, accepts her apology and they get back to work.

Unconditional love is a topic that many Bible school teachers don’t handle well, in my experience.

In my own upbringing, unconditional love was a concept used in many ways. Sometimes it was used to mean “have compassion even when it’s inconvenient.” Other times it was used to mean “don’t set reasonable boundaries with abusers, that could hurt their feelings.” What I like about this episode is that it is made abundantly clear that Oscar’s behavior might be frustrating to Robyn, but it’s not harmful. Robyn is smart. She has a lifetime of As ahead of her, and one project won’t spoil that. That might be why her teacher put them together in the first place. Robyn doesn’t need yet another perfect grade. She has the privilege of being naturally intelligent and non-disabled. What she needs is to learn patience for other people who aren’t as quick as she is.

Oscar, meanwhile, isn’t trying to take advantage of her. He’s genuinely trying his best, and you can see that even before you learn about his learning disability. For once, I think Whit is completely right. There could have been any number of reasons why he was struggling; dyslexia, problems at home or just not being bright as she was. Robyn could see that his heart was in the right place. She could see that he needs help. Her compassion and kindness shouldn’t be dependent on knowing exactly why.

Final ratings

Best bit: Oscar. Everything about Oscar.

Worst bit: Seriously, though, that’s not how dyslexia works.

Story: B+

Moral: A

Review: What Waits in the Woods, by Kieran Scott

Note: This October (and probably November) I’m reviewing scary novels from Book Riot’s list of Horror YA from Women Authors. For more Halloween reading suggestions, click the link!

what-waits-in-the-woods

What it’s about: Callie Velasquez goes on a camping trip with her boyfriend and two best friends. Things go terribly wrong.

Praise: This book is fairly predictable, but for about the first two-thirds, that was part of its charm. It was like a campfire story. There’s a weird comfort to the mundane familiarity of its chill. It knew what kind of a story it was, and it embraced it.

Criticism: Yeah, we got here fast. There was almost a lot more in the praise section. I nearly said it had great characters, a good build of suspense, and above all that it valued the friendships of the three female characters over teen boyfriend drama. This was just going to be a bit about how the prose isn’t anything special and it’s highly formulaic, but if you like that kind of thing it’s still worthwhile.

Then the last few chapters ruined everything.

With one reveal, it ruined the best character, punctured the suspense and loudly announced, “nevermind, boyfriends are the most important things EV-AR!” Plus it served up a steaming pile of ableism; the sort that goes, “mental health problems, evil, basically the same thing amirite?” It’s not subtle about that either. Several pages in a row just hammer home that this character would be fine and nice but they went off their meds so insta-evil. Then there’s this awkward sentence where the main character informs us that she’s had friends who have anxiety and depression, but clearly this isn’t that sort of mental illness. It’s the other mental illness. The one where you randomly turn evil.

Also, the shocking reveal wasn’t that shocking. See, there was only one character I wasn’t given reason to suspect. Never do that, guys. Seriously, never do that. You want three suspicion-free characters, minimum. If you just have one, every genre savvy reader is going to go, “huh, I wonder when that totally innocent character will crack and reveal they were behind it all.”

Honestly, I was hoping this story would let the mysterious stranger be the scary one. It should always be the one you don’t suspect, and the last person I would have suspected was the guy who was suspicious all along.

Recommended? Sigh. Not really.